This week marks the birthday of Duke Ellington. The American composer, pianist, and big band maverick was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C.
This photograph was taken on his seventieth birthday in 1969, when Ellington received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Nixon in the East Room of the White House.
-from the Nixon Library
Wish-I-was-there history for the day: Dave Brubeck at the White House
Dave Brubeck and George Wein (founder of the Newport Jazz Festival) at the piano performing for Duke Ellington’s 70th birthday at the White House. A U.S. Marine Band member plays bass in the foreground.
At the party, Duke Ellington was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon in the East Room. It was the first of Nixon’s Presidency.
Other guests included John B. “Dizzy” Gillespie, Benny Goodman, Mahalia Jackson, and Lou Rawls. You can see the complete list of attendees and performers in President Nixon’s Daily Diary from April 29, 1969.
More photos honoring Dave Brubeck and other jazz legends from the Nixon Library here
Jazz legend Duke Ellington died on this day, May 24, 1974
On April 24, 1969, Ellington celebrated his 70th birthday at the White House where he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The medal was presented by President Richard Nixon, who himself had played the piano since childhood. From the President’s remarks:
"When we think of freedom, we think of many things. But Duke Ellington is one who has carried the message of freedom to all the nations of the world through music, through understanding, understanding that reaches over all national boundaries and over all boundaries of prejudice and over all boundaries of language..
In the royalty of American music, no man swings more or stands higher than the Duke.”
Afterwards, the President played “Happy Birthday” on the piano for the Duke while guests at the White House sang along.
Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington
April 29, 1899 - May 24, 1974